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The Games, the Desert and One Massive Loop!

Driving down the wide open backroads, cool air blowing in the pickup windows and red rock cliffs surrounding us, nowhere to be in particular, just as long as we find a level spot to park for the night.

By: Isaac Parsons + Save to a List

The whole road trip started quite a while ago as a dream, then brewed into an idea, then eventually into a reality that was simply incredible. I started looking at maps, instagram photos, and checking for adventures on The Outbound Collective. From those things I found certain spots that I knew I really wanted to do and see. I picked the time of early June because we knew we wanted it to be in the early summer so the Utah desert wouldn’t be outrageously hot, another draw was to make it to the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.

My wife, Colleen and I gathered together the supplies and gear for the trip, loaded up my F-150, Calvin, and made sure we had everything we needed for being on the road for 11 days. 

The first day we traveled from our home in the Black Hills and headed south for Denver, it was about a 6 hour drive, that took us mostly on highway but we did get a little gravel find a picnic spot by the North Platte River in Guernsey, WY. That night we had planned to attend an event that my wife would really enjoy, we went to the musical Wicked, downtown Denver! It was a very well done show and very enjoyable! We stayed at a friends house that night just south of Denver. The next day we got a decently early start to head up to Vail, the drive was easy and uneventful up I-70. Once we made it to Vail for the GoPro Mountain Games we had to find somewhere to park which did take a while but eventually we found a spot not far from the main hub of the Games.  We spent the rest of the day checking out booths, getting free swag, and watching a few of the events they have like slacklining, whitewater kayaking, the IFSC Climbing World Cup, mountain biking and more! It was an incredible time being at the games! That night we were able to check out a little Film Festival, the main one featured: “No Man’s Land”. We were then able to boondock in one of the parking lots along the frontage road from Vail Village, there were a few campervans and trucks in the lot as well. 

The next day was Saturday, we were able to watch more slacklining, the DockDogs, rafting, more IFSC climbing, and then we eventually needed to get ready to compete in the All Mountain Madness Mud Run! So when we were back at the pickup we were getting changed and ready, but I saw someone in the parking lot whose car would not start, so I pulled out of my parking spot right up to their car to help. We got their car hooked up with jumper cables and tried and tried to start but sadly never did get it going. They were very appreciative, and were going to come up with another plan. While I was helping out there people scouring the parking lot for open spaces and someone slipped in and took my spot… I should have left something in the parking spot to save it, because we then had to try and find another spot, we eventually did just not in that lot. It ended up being a spot about 3 miles down the frontage road. It kind of stressed us out to be parked so far away and we had to be at the starting line for the Mud Run shortly after that! We were able to catch a shuttle into Vail Village, then as we were walking through the vendors and crowds of people I saw a dog that looked very familiar. I saw Loki the Wolfdog along with his owner Kelly, and Allie along with her dog Bailey. They allowed us to pet the dogs and chatted with them for a few minutes, it was an incredible experience! We had been hoping to see them around, because we knew that they would be there because of their instagram stories. We eventually made it to the Mud Run starting line and thankfully had plenty of time to spare. Colleen and I did the Mudrun and felt like we did a good job and were some of the first finishers of our heat. The obstacles included anything from jumping over hay bales, to army crawling through mud pits, to a slip ‘n slide into an inflatable pool of frigid soapy water with a cargo net to climb out of. We had a good time and were worn out when we finished the race, along with very muddy! Thankfully they had garden hoses hooked up for us to rinse off and clean up, we even got new Nature Valley towels to dry off with! We spent the rest of the evening hanging out and checking out the last few events before we got some pizza at a local restaurant then jumped in the truck and headed towards Utah on I-70. We drove that evening until about 11 o’clock and were just 2 miles from the Utah state line when we pulled over and camped in Rabbit Valley. That was a short night as we wanted to get over to Arches National Park the next morning and Canyonlands that afternoon. 

Sunday, our first stop was at Arches National Park main entrance to get some information/stickers, fill up water and use the restroom, then it was on to exploring the park! We drove slowly through, pulling off at different look outs and points, the first hike we did was to Delicate Arch! I was not so sure I really wanted to take the time to hike to it because I knew there would be crowds of people and would be very busy, looking back I am very glad we took the time! It is such an incredible arch! We took our time getting some photos, enjoying the view and making sure to drink plenty of water. While getting to Delicate Arch we got to see a few other arches as well. From there we continued to down to the Devil’s Garden, upon arriving there we had the hardest time finding a parking spot, there were loads of cars and we ended up circling around the parking area 5 times before we were able to snag one. We hiked quickly to several more arches including Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch, and the biggest arch in the park: Landscape Arch! We were getting tired and needed some lunch so we left the parking lot so someone else could have a spot and drove just a bit down the road to eat lunch at a pull out near Skyline Arch. Once we ate we made the short half mile hike to Skyline Arch. We were reluctant to leave Arches NP because there was so much more to explore, but since we did not have a lot of time to spend in any one place we started our way over to Canyonlands NP. Instead of the main roads we took BLM 378 heading west out of the park which proved to be slow going because it was a 4WD trail and had a few dry wash crossings that tested the pickups suspension capabilities. It was definitely slower going that way and was about 9 miles long, but we got to be alone and explore some areas off the normal route. Eventually we made our way to Island in the Sky visitor center for Canyonlands National Park and made sure to look out over the Shafer Trail Road that follows the edges of cliffs down into the valley below, such an incredible view and a road I hope to come back and drive in the future!  We explored different viewpoints in the park and hiked the Grand View Point trail, where the amazing views were endless in every direction! We were running out of afternoon and wanted to make sure we secured a campsite for the night before dark, I knew where we wanted to camp, but had to drive to Moab, and get 2 essentials before we could make it to camp, the essentials were avocados and a bowl of frozen yogurt! We then made the 15 mile drive from Moab past the famous Fins and Things trails to Porcupine Rim Campground, even though it was only 15 miles it took nearly an hour to drive and it was so worth it, for the campsite we got. We were able to drive right up to the edge of the cliff and cook our dinner about 1,200 feet above the floor of Castle Valley. We spent the evening soaking in the magnificent sunset and amazing views completely alone. There were other people in the campground but none near us. 

We woke up Monday morning to bright blue skies and took the morning to reorganize the truck, have some quiet time and enjoy the views even more. We then drove the rough roads back into Moab and regrouped by getting some iced coffee and spent some time looking through pictures, catching up on emails and Colleen had to do a few things for her job. From there we ate lunch along the Colorado River at Wall Street climbing area. We also took the time to do a quick wash in the river before we moved on and headed for southern Utah. 

We took Highway 191 south, we enjoyed the diverse landscapes and shared in good conversation and fun road trip music on ur way down. We got off the highway to drive the 17 mile road through Valley of the Gods! The towers and buttes look similar to Monument Valley which isn’t too far away, but are a little smaller. The nice part about Valley of the Gods is that you can get up close and personal with the towers and cliffs, there are numerous dispersed campsite all over the valley. We were just in awe the whole time driving, it was so incredible! We thought about camping in the valley but I had other plans, I wanted to get up to Moki Dugway, and then camp out at Muley Point. So, we took our time getting through the valley, then eventually made it to the series of switchbacks on the edge of the cliffs that is known as Moki Dugway. The drive might be a little intense for some people, you gain elevation quickly and before you know it you’re more than 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Once on top of the bluffs we drove just a couple more miles until we were on the edge of the cliffs facing southwest looking down on the canyons created by the Arkansas River and the towers of Monument Valley standing proudly on the horizon. We were eager to setup camp and start exploring the area. We took it all in, started snapping photos immediately because the scenery was incredible! It was just getting to be evening, we weren’t super hungry yet, so we took some time to hike down a level of the cliff. There was an area with another ledge about 30 feet lower than the main cliff we were on, so naturally we were curious and had to see what was down below. I was hoping we might find some petroglyphs or other ancient ruins, but no such luck on this short exploration. We made it back to the truck for an amazing golden hour, the lighting was simply gorgeous and really made the red rock cliffs glow and everything looked so brilliant, we soaked it all in and I made supper of dehydrated Pad Thai, and my own creation of croissant pizza pockets.along with avocados! We finished the night off with playing a few hands of cards with the last bits of daylight. 

We awoke the next morning to another great sunrise, I had hoped to take advantage of our great camping spot to go hike and take some epic sunrise shots, but sleep won and I only got a few shots from the bed of the truck when I briefly woke up to snap a few dawn pictures. Once I was finally able to pull myself out of bed I discovered I had left the doors of Calvin open and didn’t think it was a big deal but later when we drove away we discovered we had a couple hundred other passengers riding along with us… For breakfast I took the time to make some Kodiak Cake pancakes that we had gotten for free at the GoPro Mountain Games. They hit the spot, such a good blend of healthy ingredients, and tasty. We broke camp and hit the road because we had another full day of exploring, and our end goal was to get to Flagstaff. 

We started by backtracking down Moki Dugway Pass, as we were traveling down the bumpy dirt road we started waking up passengers we had acquired during the night since I left the doors open. Moths started flying out handfuls of them at a time! Eventually we thought we had gotten rid of them, but not the case, we are pretty sure a few flew out in every state the rest of the trip. Then shortly after that we were within sight of Monument Valley. As we got closer we pulled off a few times to take it in! We couldn’t stay too long because we were planning to meet one of my buddies and his wife at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which wasn’t exactly a planned stop on the road trip when we first set out! There was one issue we realized as we crossed over into Arizona from Utah, the time changed, it changed in our favor but it took us a while to figure it out after we talked it over and made a phone call. Arizona and its no daylight savings time stuff… We did in fact make it to the South Rim by about noon, which meant we had plenty of time to hang out, eat lunch and then take a couple hikes! At one point we went down into the Canyon following the Kaibab trail where we hiked to Ooh Aah Point, I was already doing that before we got down into the Canyon itself. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon I would really recommend it! We had such a fun time! As the afternoon dwindled we made our way down to Flagstaff. That evening we took some time to make it to a local bar downtown while there we even got to play some trivia!

Wednesday ended up being the last big day of our outdoor adventures before we had to cannonball up to Minnesota. The four of us along, with their dog Emmit, packed our backpacks for a hike at Inner Basin at the base of Humphrey’s peak. p0Sadly we didn’t have enough time to actually hike up Humphrey's Peak, I would have loved to do that. We enjoyed the massive stands of Aspen trees, most bigger than I have ever seen before! It was a nice hike that was mostly in the shade which was good because the weather was quite warm. After our hike and a picnic we made it back to their apartment complex in time to enjoy a late afternoon dip in the pool and finished off the night with some grilling. 

Thursday morning we got up as they were getting ready to go to work and we grabbed our things and got an early start for a long day of driving. The day was uneventful, which when you are driving over 900 miles in a day it’s ok to have an uneventful day. It was such a long day of driving we did end up going through 5 states throughout the day, and along the way we would have some moths fly up from under our seats or the dash! I drove for the first seven hours that day until I was just too tired to drive anymore then Colleen took over for several hours, when we finally stopped to have a decent supper and get out of the car to stretch our legs and take in the NBA Finals game, but we weren’t done driving for the day yet. We rolled into a Walmart Parking lot around 12:30 AM in Wichita, Kansas where we were very thankful to be done driving and spend the night. 

In the morning we awoke to a bright blue sky after having a huge midwest storm roll through in the area. We got a nice easy start to the day by meeting one of Colleen’s friends for breakfast at a local breakfast cafe which fueled us for the day. Once we hit the road we knew it was going to be a good and easy day because that night after another 8 hours of driving we would be back at Colleen’s childhood home with her parents! Another uneventful drive, but both of our big days of driving were full of good conversation, reflections of the trip, classic road trip music and a few podcasts like the Stokecast! 

Saturday, day 10 found us sleeping in and taking advantage of being home, we had no big plans other than a wedding that afternoon and evening. It was a good chance for us to be out of the car, relax, and enjoy family time. 

Sunday was July 16th and the last day of our big road trip, but before we could complete it, we went to church with Colleen’s family and then had a nice Father’s day meal for her dad.  We took turns driving across Minnesota and South Dakota until we pulled into our driveway back in Custer. We ended up driving nearly 3,600 miles, went to 3 national parks, through 12 states, slept in the back of the truck 5 nights and had an actual bed the other 5 nights at friends and families houses.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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